Fibroblasts are the most common cells of connective tissue in the body and they play a critical role in the synthesis of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and collagen, the structural framework (stroma) for animal tissues, and play a critical role in wound healing.
Fibroblasts are morphologically heterogeneous with diverse appearances depending on their location, function, and current activity. They are active, proliferative cells in the initial stages of wound healing, while they convert to a less active, less proliferative, quiescent state after the wound has closed.
Fibroblasts secrete a non-rigid extracellular matrix rich in type I and/or type III collagen. They are responsible for the production of the ground substance that is essential for the physical properties of connective tissues. They also help in the repair of tissues after injury or damage.
Fibroblasts can give rise to myofibroblasts, a cell type that contributes to wound contraction during healing. Myofibroblasts express alpha-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), which allows them to contract and generate tension, facilitating wound closure. However, the persistence of myofibroblasts after wound healing can lead to the formation of fibrotic tissue, which is less functional than the original tissue.
In the context of disease, fibroblasts can undergo changes that contribute to pathology. For example, in fibrotic diseases, fibroblasts produce excessive amounts of ECM components, leading to the thickening and scarring of tissues. In cancer, fibroblasts can become cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), which promote tumor growth and invasion by remodeling the ECM and producing growth factors and cytokines.
Fibroblasts also play a crucial role in the immune response. They can produce chemokines and cytokines, molecules that modulate the immune response, and express molecules involved in antigen presentation, allowing them to interact with immune cells. In chronic inflammatory diseases, fibroblasts can contribute to the persistence of inflammation by producing pro-inflammatory cytokines.
In terms of their regulation, fibroblasts are influenced by a variety of factors, including growth factors, cytokines, and mechanical stress. For example, transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) is a potent inducer of ECM synthesis and can stimulate fibroblasts to differentiate into myofibroblasts. Mechanical stress can also influence fibroblast behavior; for instance, it can stimulate the production of ECM components and induce the differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts.
In summary, fibroblasts are versatile cells that play a crucial role in tissue homeostasis and repair. Their behavior is influenced by a variety of factors, and they can contribute to both physiological and pathological processes. Understanding the regulation and function of fibroblasts could provide valuable insights into tissue repair and disease processes, and could potentially lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies.